Bob Dylan’s controversial album Self Portrait was released in 1970. The album was meant to be bad on purpose and was known for the infamous lines in Greil Marcus’ Rolling Stone review, which opened with “What is this shit?” The album was a double album of odd covers with bizarre overdubs and some poorly mixed live recordings. The songs were released in this fashion as a reaction to fans harassing Dylan at his family home. Bob said in a 1984 Rolling Stone interview: “'Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can't possibly like, they can't relate to. They'll see it, and they'll listen, and they'll say, 'Well, let's get on to the next person. He ain't sayin' it no more. He ain't given' us what we want,' you know? They'll go on to somebody else.” The idea didn’t really work out as planned, but around the same time Dylan was working on another album, one that was to become 1970’s New Morning.
Those sessions are known for their beginnings, which took place on May 1st, 1970, with Beatle George Harrison on guitar. The sessions were a mish mash of covers and a few originals and have been widely bootlegged for some time. However, the sessions showcase an interesting point in Dylan’s career, the transition from Self Portrait to New Morning is night and day. New Morning excels where Self Portrait conveys quite the opposite. From these sessions a few songs were considered for release on New Morning, but they were never used. A few of these songs “Working On A Guru”, a version of “Time Passes Slowly” and “If Not For You” have since been released officially.
The May 1st session was to be recorded in secret, but even though the rumours spread, the Bob Johnston produced session went down as planned. Musicians on the session included Charlie Daniels on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, Bob Johnston on keys and of course Bob Dylan and George Harrison. The session is loose and features several tracks that are of a rough around the edges quality. George Harrison’s guitar playing often reflects influences from the early days of The Beatles. Songs such as “I Don’t Believe You”, Carl Perkins “Matchbox”, the muddy “When’s My Swamp Gonna Catch Fire?”, “Honey Just Allow Me Just One More Chance”, a recording of an early still unreleased Bob Dylan original “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”, a version of The Beatles “Yesterday” which ends with George Harrison saying that they should “put some cello on that”, all serve as candidates in favour of the sessions. There are still some weaker moments, but overall the sessions symbolize a unique point in both musicians’ careers. They also add to the vast and mysterious unreleased catalog that Bob Dylan has created during various points in his career.
As George had just become an ex-Beatle and was beginning work on his All Things Must Pass album, Bob Dylan was dealing with a difficult period with over obsessed fans viewing him as a sight seeing prophet. Both musicians had plenty on their mind. If these loose and for the most part off the cuff sessions show us anything, it is just a collection of musicians having unstructured fun in the studio rediscovering themselves, while the distractions of the outside world remain elsewhere.
Self Portrait and several of the tracks from the New Morning sessions are revisited on 2013’s The Bootleg Series Vol 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1972), including a full and proper remixed concert from the Isle of Wight with Bob Dylan & The Band.
1. The Rezillos - Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight
2. Ramones - Highest Trails Above
3. Wire - Just Don’t Care (1977 Demo)
4. Zombie Surfers - Zombie Hand
5. The Orions - Always Clean And Fresh
6. North By North - Burn It Down
7. Deathcats - Aligator
8. Fruit Tones - Just Feeling Lucky
9. Aron D’Alesio - Carousel
10. Picastro - Endlessly
11. The Big Cat Band (Drew from Dead Ghosts and members of Indian Wars) - Jimmy
12. Dead Ghosts - Girl (The Keggs Cover)
13. Bob Dylan (With George Harrison) - When’s My Swamp Gonna Catch Fire?
14. Bob Dylan (With George Harrison) - Mama You’ve Been On My Mind
15. Scattered Bodies - The Many Moments
16. Vaguess - Television Dreams
17. The Zellots - On The Dole
18. Female Hands - Divided By Three
19. Active Dog - Nothing Holding You
20. Tim Ray & AV - Quarter To Eight
21. Private School - Rock & Roll Radio
22. Spizzenergi - Soldier Soldier
23. Magazine - Shot By Both Sides (1977 Definitive Daze Demo)
24. Bob Dylan (With George Harrison) - Working On A Guru
25. Bob Dylan (With George Harrison) - Time Passes Slowly # 1
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